Two Israeli athletes won medals on Thursday at the Grand Slam, a prestigious international Judo competition in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), but were treated disgracefully at the presentation ceremony. The two young athletes handled it with grace, nonetheless.
When Gili Cohen was presented with her bronze medal in the women’s under -114 pounds category, her uniform was conspicuously devoid of a flag patch designating her country of origin. The organizers of the event had insisted that the Israeli athletes could compete only if no Israeli flags were displayed. The announcer introduced the Israeli athletes as representing “the International Judo Federation (IJF)”, and the IJF flag rose up in front of the crowd.
When Tal Flicker was presented with his gold medal in the men’s under-145 pound category, the theme-song of the International Judo Federation blasted from the loudspeakers, but Flicker was seen mouthing words out of synch with the music. The Israeli athlete was singing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.
“Israel is my country, and I’m proud to be Israeli,” he said in an interview with Channel 2 news from his hotel room. “The anthem that they played of the world federation was just background noise,” he said. “I was singing ‘Hatikvah’ from my heart.
Before the competition, Flicker wrote on his Facebook page about competing under these conditions.
“With or without the flag, I will cope with the difficulties against any competitor. Everything will be done in order to arrive at Abu Dhabi, and to finish up on the podium. Everyone knows where we are from and what country we represent.”
All this came about despite the International Judo Federation warning the president of the UAE Judo Federation before the competition that the 12 Israeli athletes competing should be treated equally.
“The IJF Statutes clearly provide that the IJF shall not discriminate on the ground of race, religion, gender or political opinion,” the governing body of the IJF wrote. “According to these principles, which are binding for the entire Olympic Movement including, of course, the IJF and all national federations and other entities involved in the organisation of any judo sports event, there may not be any discrimination of any kind at any event organised by or supervised by the IJF, including of course the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam”
The organizers insisted that their actions were not prejudicial but were based on security concerns that require the Israeli team not be identified as such. The UAE and Israel do not have diplomatic relations.
The Grand Slam website listed Israel, with the Israeli flag appearing, but in the description of the day’s events, the two athletes were listed as competing for the IJF.